University General Course Catalog 2020-2021 
    May 28, 2023  

Geophysics, Ph.D.

Graduate studies include theoretical, experimental, and applied research in:

  • earthquake hazards and national-security seismology,
  • geophysical exploration and geotechnical assessments,
  • hazards and environmental assessments,
  • geodesy,
  • planetary sciences, and
  • remote sensing.

Students may choose an appropriate course of study for their academic or career goals. Graduate students conduct research within the Department and/or in association with the Nevada Seismological Laboratory and ALERT wildfire (, the Great Basin Center for Geothermal Energy (, the Nevada Geodetic Laboratory (, the Center for Neotectonic Studies (, the Ralph J. Roberts Center for Research in Economic Geology (, the Desert Research Institute (, the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology (, the Nevada National Security Site, National Laboratories, and the United States Geological Survey.

Both regional and international research programs are available. Field-related studies and research are among the strengths of our programs. The University of Nevada, Reno is located near the boundary between the Great Basin and Sierra Nevada physiographic provinces, and is near many world-class localities for field studies, including active volcanoes, earthquake faults, and geothermal-energy production. Lake Tahoe and Yosemite, Great Basin, and Lassen Volcanic national parks are all within easy reach of Reno. We have state-of-the-art field instrumentation for geologic, temperature, seismic, gravity, magnetic, electrical, geodetic, and rock properties studies. We also have one of the world’s largest regional seismic networks and host the world’s largest GPS analysis center.

Contact Information

Stacia Gordon, Ph.D., Graduate Program Director
Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering
Department Office: (775) 784-6476​

Program Objectives/Student Learning Outcomes

Students pursue research projects around the globe as well as in Nevada’s unique and accessible terrain. Three 10-page papers published in international peer-reviewed journals represent in combination the ideal Geophysics Ph.D. thesis. Graduates are actively sought by academia, national laboratories, and the energy industry, commanding top salary offers.

Admission Requirements

Students must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university to be accepted as a graduate student. For full graduate standing, at least 30 units of undergraduate work in geology and/or related fields must have been completed.

  • To be considered for admission, students must meet the following minimum university requirements:
  • Grade-point average (GPA): Four-year undergraduate GPA of 2.75 for applicants to a M.S. degree program, or 3.0 GPA for a Ph.D. degree program.

Minimum TOEFL score (if applicable): 550, with scores sent directly to the university. Note that 600 is recommended because students below a 600 must then pass a bridge test upon entering the university.

For admission to the Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering, prospective students must also submit the following:

  • Three letters of recommendation certifying ability to perform graduate-level work at the desired level (M.S. or Ph.D.);
  • A one or two page personal statement of interest stating why UNR is their school of choice, why they wish to pursue the desired degree (M.S. or Ph.D.), and what specialties and/or faculty the applicant is interested in; and
  • Copies of transcripts and TOEFL scores (if applicable).

The Admissions Committee gives comparable weight to each item submitted as part of the application package. An applicant will not be denied admission based solely on their GPA. It is advisable for applicants to contact prospective faculty advisors to discuss their interests prior to applying. 

Application Deadlines and Addresses

For Fall semester admission, complete applications (i.e., the items listed above) must be submitted online with any supporting documents and received by the Graduate School by January 1 for Fall and September 15 for Spring admissions. Official transcripts should be sent directly to the UNR Graduate School to arrive well before these stated deadlines. The applicant’s personal statement and letters of recommendation, if not uploaded via the online application, should be sent to:

University of Nevada, Reno
Graduate School, Mail Stop 0326
Reno, NV 89557-0326

I. Program Requirements

In addition to UNR Graduate School Ph.D. requirements, the program requires the following course work:

B. Seminar (5 units)

  • (1 unit) (Students must enroll for a minimum of 5 credits over the course of their program)

C. Comprehensive Examination (1 unit)

D. Dissertation (30 units)


*Students must file an approved Program of Study with the Graduate School near the end of the fourth semester of residence (the specific date is the same as the “thesis due date” for students finishing their studies).

II. Total Units (61 units)

Prospective applicants should have a degree in the geological sciences, physical sciences or engineering fields. The Ph.D. degree is 61 credits. The credits include a 1-unit GEOL 795 - Comprehensive Examination that may not be used to satisfy the 20 units of 700-level course work required for the Ph.D. degree. Contact the Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering office or the geophysics faculty for more details.


Available facilities include one of the world’s largest digitally recorded regional seismic networks; a 350+ GPS station network; laboratory and field equipment for optical and infrared reflectance and Raman spectroscopy; field instrumentation for seismic (reflection, refraction, and microtremor at several scales), gravity, geodetic, magnetic, and electrical studies; a paleomagnetism/ rock magnetism laboratory; a network of cluster computers for rapid data processing, modeling, and scientific visualization, and access to licensed copies of the EarthVision, OpendTect, and SPW software packages. We also host the largest GPS analysis center in the world.

Undergraduate Prerequisites

Although there are no formal prerequisites, students usually enter (MS or PhD) with undergraduate degrees in geology, physics, or related engineering fields. We expect students to have advanced mathematics (through differential equations), and solid grounding in introductory physics and geology.